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President Trump addressed our NATO allies in Brussels today, giving a speech that perfectly well could have been written by Vladimir Putin. Why Putin? Because it was brazenly inappropriate for the NATO venue and almost certainly was badly received by those allies and their constituents.Forget his boorish, egocentric behavior in abruptly and rudely shoving a fellow NATO member out of the way so he could move to the front of the assembling pack of dignitaries. Focus instead on what he actually said and did not say during his speech and on the likely effect that those words, or lack of words, would have on his fellow NATO presidents and their people.

The president hit hard on his view of the need for NATO members to tighten their immigration procedures. That is one of his ongoing complaints and one on which most Europeans disagree with him. It is an issue on which he has minor support around the world or even at home. It was hardly appropriate for that particular meeting of NATO heads of state.

In addition, he used the occasion to complain bitterly about the ongoing disinclination of many NATO member countries to pay their way, thus saddling the American taxpayer with expenses that should have been borne elsewhere. All of that is true and it is a theme that has been addressed by every American president since Harry Truman. This was a message well known to NATO and one which, under two of Trump’s predecessors, was beginning to have a positive impact resulting in rising contributions. His harping is not likely to help his cause.

In short, it was very much along the lines of ongoing Russian policy on Europe, NATO and the West.

What would have been appropriate for Trump to cover was a reiteration of America’s support to its fellow NATO members to accept and support the provisions of Article 5. That NATO provision commits every member to support any and all attacks against any of its fellow members. It was Article 5 that prompted the entire NATO membership to sign on with America after 9/11.

We are now at a moment in time when Russia is behaving very aggressively with most of the Western world, most emphatically including NATO’s European members. We have seen it in Ukraine and in Crimea. Additionally, the Russians have clearly been meddling in European elections. Here at home we have seen it in their covert meddling in our primary election process.

Under present circumstances, what our fellow NATO members wanted from the United States president was a clear, unequivocal statement that we still support NATO and adhere to the provisions of Article 5. They got neither.

What they got was a speech that never seemed to contradict Trump’ previous negative statements on NATO or the European Community. It never stated this new American administration’s commitment to NATO and the provisions of Article 5.

In short, it was very much along the lines of ongoing Russian policy on Europe, NATO and the West. It was almost entirely negative and non-supportive on those issues on which the NATO members wanted, needed and expected to hear — a strong reiteration of America’s past supportive policy.

America will find diminishing support for its leading role in NATO and the world, including in the counterterrorism arena, one of great importance and one of Trump’s favorites.

Just what Putin would have wanted if he had written the speech himself.

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During the Cold War, the United States Intelligence Community was plagued with conspiracy theories covering just about any event that was deemed to be important to our national interest. Some of those theories were so wild that they were unprovable one way or the other. Others were clearly the product of some individual’s paranoia. Many of them were the product of a general unease within the Intelligence Community over the aggressive activities of the Soviet Union and her allies.At the end of the Cold War, those paranoid concerns began to drop by the wayside. They were not revived until the planes hit the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania field on 9/11. That raised a wholly new paranoid concern – that the 9/11 events had somehow been engineered by unidentified powers within the United States government. The Bush administration, the Pentagon, the CIA and the Intelligence Community were all labeled at one time or another as the evil powers behind that horrendous event.

In retrospect, what finally put most of those old conspiracy theories to rest were two realities. First, there was never any hard intelligence provided to prove the theories. Second and more important was the realization that any theory that relied on the participation of vast numbers of American citizens would be doomed to failure simply because, at the very least, one of them would have blown the whistle on the plot. The best example of that was the realization that American government involvement in 9/11 would have required far too many participants to have kept it secret. And such a conspiracy was never proven or revealed by hard intelligence or human penetrations.

Was that the end of the age of conspiracies? No way! The 17 member organizations of the U.S. Intelligence Community have said unequivocally that Putin’s Russia was involved in a conspiracy to effect the U.S. elections of 2016. Although few “facts” have been made public, there is a solid consensus that it really happened and that the Russians were actively involved in the operation.

However, unlike past presidents, he somehow feels compelled to publicly express his admiration for a group of foreign leaders whose activities are so questionable that they would never have been praised by any of his predecessors.

One thing that makes today’s new conspiracy theorists so intensely focused on this Russian involvement is the clear picture that our president has given about his likes and dislikes, most emphatically including his views about the world leaders with whom the United States must deal. What he has told us is that, first and foremost, he admires strongmen who seize power and exercise it in whatever way is necessary to maintain it. However, unlike past presidents, he somehow feels compelled to publicly express his admiration for a group of foreign leaders whose activities are so questionable that they would never have been praised by any of his predecessors. What sort of intellectual, moral and ethical environments do these attitudes set for members of this administration?

The list is endless and includes primarily those who, at best, have terrible human rights records and employ what in this country would be seen as extra-judicial methods in order to maintain their power. His favorites begin with Vladimir Putin of Russia and continue with Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Abdelfattah Said Al Sissi of Egypt, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. In addition, he has spoken admiringly of Syria’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Moamar Khaddafi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, China’s Xi Jinping, Thailand’s Prayuth Chan-ocha and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

Why would any president of the USA openly deal with or speak positively of such a group? When thinking about that, one has to consider that that may be precisely what our president would like to be, a powerful autocrat. If that is the case, and particularly given Russia’s involvement in our 2016 elections and his recent praise for Putin, it becomes less problematical to speculate about Russia’s further involvement in U.S. politics.

Today’s Russia, particularly under the leadership of former KGB Col. Vladimir Putin and his former KGB colleagues, and specifically in the fields of intelligence collection and intelligence manipulation, is simply a continuation of Soviet Russia. The KGB’s successor organization, the SNB, is simply a continuation of the old days with new people.

The questions that any conspiracy theorist has to ask are pretty simple. What was the nature of Russian intervention in the 2016 election? What if any assistance did the Russians get from people in the Trump campaign? If they exist, who were they? Most important, if such relationships existed, as broadly alleged, have they been maintained by the Russians into the president’s first term?

That is the crux of the matter and that last question is essentially rhetorical. Soviet and Russian modus operandi dictates that they would maintain such relationships, particularly given the overriding importance of America to them as an intelligence target. Given the acknowledged meddling of Russian intelligence in our election, it would be foolhardy to assume, at least until proven otherwise, that the Russians have not recruited and are not running any penetrations of the current American administration.

In the end, conspiracy theories will persist. Some of them are accurate, particularly when they appear to be supported by existing facts.

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 Originally published in Vermont Digger

Successful bilateral foreign policy has historically required a level of predictability on both sides. Without that, both sides are running blind and disaster becomes far more likely.During the second presidential primary debate, candidate Donald Trump criticized Mike Pence for supporting the concept that the U.S. bomb the Syrian military if Russia and the Assad regime continued to strike civilians. Hillary Clinton had just called for a no-fly zone in Syria. Pence and Clinton wanted America to police violations of the international rules of warfare. Trump, by contrast, wished to ignore them and is explicitly on record as not favoring the world police role for America, which he has now undertaken in Syria.

The administration says the real issue is poison gas, but is poison gas so bad that by contrast it makes killing people by other means perfectly acceptable? Why has our new president not retaliated or even spoken against the killings by other means of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians, most emphatically including children, who have already perished in their civil war?

We have now been involved in a 16-year undeclared war in the Middle East which began with our invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Americans have learned a great deal about the region during those years. Perhaps most importantly, we have learned that we are no longer admired and respected in the region. That change in attitude has come about primarily because of our military activities there and it follows that further military activity will only increase local hatred for us.

Where does the world stand when the American president is wildly unpredictable?

Our military presence there, even when we are clearly killing bad guys like the Taliban, al-Qaida and ISIS, has created a series of situations in which locals who once appreciated us have found it necessary to choose between us and our enemies. Far too often that choice has been dictated by the fact that the American forces are foreigners killing their countrymen.

We have learned that Syria is run by a minority (13 percent) Alawite (Shia) government and that the vast majority (75 percent) of Syrians are Sunni. We know that 85-90 percent of Muslims are Sunni, leaving the Shia in a tiny minority. We know there is no love lost between them and that they have a long history of conflict. What we are watching in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East are bits and pieces of that old conflict, now often in the form of civil conflict within “countries,” created a century and more ago by Western imperialist nations, that really can’t survive without relentless internal repression or massive external help.

Picture yourself as a Syrian Alawite (Shia). You are the Shia with your finger in the dike of Sunni repression. You would do anything to maintain the status quo in Syria. The largest Shia country in the region is Iran. Iran has the same concerns about its existence as the Alawites in Syria. They are under the gun from the Sunnis. The Iranians do not intend to see another Shia-run country go down the tubes, so they are supporting Syria both directly and through Hamas and Hezbollah, their surrogates in the Levant.

Additionally, Russia has historical geopolitical designs that have persuaded them to support the minority Alawites in every way possible. After all, Syria is the only country in the regions that has provided Russia with a naval base and that is and always has been a critical consideration for Russia.

What we now have here in America is an elected president who, between the campaign and his incumbency, has changed his position on just about every issue with the possible exceptions of wealth and power. It would appear that he has little understanding of, or is persuaded to overlook, the critically important realities in the Middle East.

As unpleasant as that may be for those of us who are disinterested in participating in another Middle East ground war, that is not the real issue. The real and infinitely more dangerous issue is that foreign policy over the millennia has required consistency and some level of predictability on the part of its participants. What probably saved America and the Soviet Union from nuclear annihilation during the Cold War was that each side was, in the main, predictable and thus relatively understandable to the other.

Where does the world stand when the American president is wildly unpredictable? How will he be read by countries like North Korea, China, Pakistan, Iran, Russia and others with actual and hoped for nuclear weapons? What will they do in such a new, completely changed environment?

What is said to have worked in business negotiations will not necessarily work in international relations.

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Originally published in Vermont Digger

President Donald Trump has taken the position that Americans have a great deal to fear from terrorism. Fear is the backbone of all his statements. Every time there is a terrorist event anywhere in the world, we get tweets and other White House media coverage that constantly remind us how vulnerable we are to this so-called “terrorist threat,” even though the event in question may have had nothing to do with America. Additionally, the “terrorist threat” is the basis for incredible amounts of “alternative facts” being circulated out of the White House and its employees. Some “true facts” are in order here.According to Life Insurance Quotes, a business that focuses on educating consumers on the various aspects of life insurance, the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are about one in 20 million. A person is as likely to be killed by his or her own furniture, and more likely to die in a car accident, or in a building fire, or drown in a bathtub than from a terrorist attack.

The libertarian Cato Institute has arrived at its own finding: Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump in his travel ban have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015. Zero. Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period. Zero Libyans and zero Syrians. “Foreign-born terrorism is a hazard,” the Cato Institute argues, “but it is manageable given the huge economic benefits of immigration and the small costs of terrorism.” The study concludes that “the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year.”

Business Insider states that Americans are six times more likely to die from a shark attack (one of the rarest forms of death on Earth), 29 times more likely to die from an asteroid strike, 260 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning, 4,700 times more likely to die in an airplane or spaceship accident, 129,000 times more likely to die in a gun assault, 407,000 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle incident and 6.9 million times more likely to die from cancer or heart disease than they are to die in a terrorist incident.

Heightened fear in populations has often led to the end of existing forms of government, largely because a fearful population is relatively easy to manipulate.

Finally, the National Safety Council states simply that the odds of Americans dying at the hands of refugee tourists are one in 46,192,893 and at the hands of immigrant tourists, one in 138,324,873.

There is no reputable source in this country that says anything different about the terrorist threat. It is anything but real. In fact, the threat is so miniscule that we are forced to wonder precisely what motivates the administration to tout it so forcefully. What are their goals in distorting the truth so ceaselessly? Why are they trying, so obviously, to turn America into a land of “terrorist paranoia”?

People who succumb to the “alternative facts” on the “threat of terrorism” that are now being put out by the Trump administration are creating a new and different world for themselves. It will become more important to them that they be “safe” than that they be “free.” Benjamin Franklin said appropriately in 1755, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” That could not be more true today.

It seems therefore likely that the administration is trying to create and then expand an environment of fear and terrorist paranoia. Why they would be doing that is a far more difficult question. Do they seek additional power or wealth? It is difficult to construct any theory that is benign toward our people or our democracy. It does seem however, that the promotion of “terrorist paranoia” is likely designed to create a situation in which the population will be prepared to give up freedoms to the central government in return for “safety” provided by that same government.

Heightened fear in populations has often led to the end of existing forms of government, largely because a fearful population is relatively easy to manipulate. Fear is a vehicle that despots often try to ride into far more restrictive models of government. History is rife with examples of this and whatever the motivation, there is absolutely no reason to think that American democracy is immune.

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Originally published in Vermont Digger

Thanks to the infighting between the Trump administration and the congressional Democrats, it is now patently clear to anyone who cares to know that the U.S. government has phone taps on the Russian Embassy in Washington. That was probably an unnecessary revelation, but it will have few negative ramifications for the United States.

Equally, there will be few consequences for the Russians in their embassy. They all know from their own experiences and their own identical operations against other countries that such taps must exist and that they must conduct their business accordingly. The only consequences for them will be that people who might want to contact them anonymously may now have a second thought about doing so, fearing their identification through those taps.

The issue that remains in this bizarre situation is, what was in those phone calls? Does anyone in his or her right mind believe that there are no transcripts of those calls? There simply are no phone taps that do not produce transcripts.

It must be obvious that Russia is hostile to the United States. To think otherwise is dangerously naïve.

 Having acknowledged the existence of the phone taps, we have already done as much damage to our own counterintelligence efforts as we could have – and that was not too much. Having done that, why don’t we release the contents of those calls between members of the Trump primary campaign and the Russians?

The Trump primary workers and the current Trump administration have indicated that those employees have committed no crimes or indiscretions and that there have been no contacts with members of the Russian Embassy staff. They have only acknowledged those made by Gen. Michael Flynn on the issue of sanctions. That being the case, they should be happy to see the contents of the transcripts revealed, since, according to them, they will be vindicated.

This is not an issue that should be brushed aside. It must be obvious that Russia is hostile to the United States. To think otherwise is dangerously naïve. Their national goals and ours are totally different and increasingly in conflict.

It seems obvious that the Russian government has made a number of covert attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. It really doesn’t matter whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, that is internationally unacceptable behavior. It would seem that this Russian government has every intention of continuing this kind of covert action operation and since it strikes at the most basic elements of our democratic form of government — free elections — we cannot afford to let it slide by unchallenged.

Given what we have been told by the congressional Democrats and the Trump administration and assuming that everyone involved is telling the truth, there would seem to be no American losers, only Russian, in an examination of the transcripts of those phone calls.

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald

 

America’s success in domestic counterterrorism depends on two critical elements: The extent to which the American people descend into “terrorist paranoia” and the extent to which we alienate our Muslim citizens and residents.

Fifty years ago terrorism was seen primarily in dissident national groups working against the nations in which they lived.

Today the world of terrorism has changed. The primary authors of 21st Century terrorism are found in radical Islam.

The dominant radical Muslim terrorist modus operandi used to be operations mounted from abroad against enemy countries in which terrorists were recruited, trained, equipped and directed on trips from their homelands to radical Muslim centers abroad.

Now, those operations are conceived and run autonomously from abroad, mostly from Syria and Iraq. The recruited terrorist may never leave his home country. The recruitment, training, provisioning and execution of the operation are likely to be run entirely remotely via encrypted internet from abroad. All of this complicates our efforts to counter terrorism at home.

These realities have reinforced the decades-old international conclusion that the only truly effective counter-terrorist measures are intelligence and law enforcement operations.

The best allies that law enforcement and intelligence organizations have in the conduct of current counterterrorist operations are moderate Muslims. In a perfect world, one in which they are living undisturbed lives, moderate Muslims are the most likely people to be able to provide critical information on the potential terrorist activities of radical Muslims living in the same country with them.

It should be stated clearly here that there is no coercion involved. Moderate Muslims are appalled by the activities of their radical cousins and see them as a threat to their own peace and well-being. They are natural enemies of the radicals and see the national law enforcement and intelligence personnel and organizations of the countries in which they live as their natural allies – the only organizations that can protect them from the radicals.

All of this requires a relatively benign environment in which moderate Muslims feel comfortable and unthreatened. In a hostile environment, if American personnel are involved, the moderate is faced with a dilemma. Does he support the American who he sees as part of the group creating the hostile environment, or does he support the fellow national and Muslim, regardless of his radical positions? US experience in the Middle East indicates that, as often as not, under these conditions, the radical will be supported over the American.

As long as the moderate Muslim feels comfortable and unthreatened, he will be anti-radical. When that changes, all bets are off. He may be drawn to the radical side simply because they are former co-nationals or co-religionists. At that point even moderates can become dangerous to our country.

How then do we alienate or threaten these moderates? We can indiscriminately single them out as somehow dangerous.We can denigrate them and their religion. We can identify them and expel them from our country. We can refuse them entry, even when they have endangered their own lives by supporting our troops in the Middle East as translators and interpreters. We can refuse entry to all Muslims, including those whom we have already vetted exhaustively and judged not to be threats to America. In short, through executive order and popular harassment, we can make their lives almost unbearable.

In addition, some in America are clearly interested in causing a high level of anxiety in our population when it comes to terrorism. Every act of terrorism carried out anywhere in the world is tweeted and reported extensively in the media. It seems to be working. Even though the likelihood of being injured or killed by a terrorist is miniscule, particularly when compared to automobile, gun or virtually any other kind of death, we hear constantly about vigilance and terrorism. We are being converted to terrorist paranoia.

It would seem safe to say that a combination of terrorist paranoia and the disaffection and alienation of our own Muslim population will have a profound affect on our country. We are already beginning to see indiscriminate anti-Muslim acts taking place around the country, fed by administration actions and negative statements.

The current administration’s stressing of the “growing terrorist threat” and the increasing discomfort of moderate Muslims in America will likely prove important factors in our ability, or lack thereof, to control the level of radical Muslim terrorism here at home. We desperately need those moderates on our side.

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Originally published in THE RUTLAND HERALD                      

 

Vladimir Putin is a Russian who understands Russian history. He is swayed only by his pragmatism and has a very precise picture of what he wants for Russia in the world today.

President Donald Trump has a sparse record on the policy level and can only be measured by his statements since the beginning of the primary campaign.

Keep in mind that Russia is still very much our enemy. The fascinating thing is that Putin’s stated goals seem to be almost completely in harmony with those of Trump. Precisely what are those goals?

NATO

If Putin could write his own ticket today he would want to see the end of NATO, which has been a thorn in the side of Russia since its inception in 1949.

Trump has called NATO “obsolete.” There is concern here and in Europe that Trump’s comments will not only undermine the European Union, but benefit Russia, which would prefer a weakened NATO and a strained Europe-U.S. alliance.

Trump, in his distaste for NATO, has made it abundantly clear that he opposes the membership of any of the former Soviet satellite countries in that organization. What this has done is strengthen right-wing political movements in those countries, movements that oppose the E.U. and NATO and their countries’ involvement with them.

EUROPEAN UNION

Putin will revel in Britain’s exit from the E.U. and in the chaos it causes. The political swing to the right resulting from the xenophobic European reaction to the refugee flow and the concomitant move away from European political cooperation is clearly approved by Putin. Such is the case in countries like Austria, Italy, Sweden, France, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Trump shows little love for the E.U., saying recently that he had a “very bad experience” in which “getting the approvals from Europe was very, very tough.” Trump seemed to be referring to an E.U. ruling against a wall he wanted to build at an Irish golf course he owns because it would endanger protected snails.

Trump has negatively dismissed the 28-member E.U. as a “vehicle for Germany.” European officials and analysts say the Trump administration seems to be trying to rewrite the terms of the U.S.-E.U. alliance in ways that are potentially destabilizing for Europe.

SYRIA

The flow of refugees from Syria, the rest of the Middle East and Africa to Europe does not bother Putin because that flow also further weakens the E.U. and, through that, NATO. That partly explains the continuing heavy involvement of Russia in the Syrian conflict.

Trump’s Syria strategy, as seen by Foreign Policy, would be a “disaster.” The president-elect wants to fight the Islamic State and to cease support to those fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The main effect of those policies, however, would be to eliminate the moderate opposition to the Assad regime, empower extremism and create chaos across the Middle East.

EAST EUROPE

The historical Russian preoccupation with border states like Estonia, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria, all of which are showing indications of dissatisfaction with E.U. involvement, is of critical interest to Russia today. One of the causes of that discontent, migration from the Middle East and Africa, is something the Russians would clearly like to foster.

US DOMESTIC

Putin would do everything possible to weaken the United States. He would love to see ethnic and religious divisions in the United States grow. He clearly revels in the dissent that now exists in our political system between Republicans and Democrats.

Given the first few days of his administration, it is clear that Trump wishes to continue the ideological and political divide that has plagued this country for far too long. His recent edicts on Muslims in the U.S. have provoked widespread, divisive demonstrations around the country. His moves in foreign policy have exacerbated the same national divisions.

US INTERNATIONAL

Putin would want to see America to withdraw from the world, particularly from areas like the Middle East where Russia has had unmet goals for centuries. He would do everything possible to see us lose our ability to affect events abroad.

“America First” — we all know that to be a cornerstone of Trump’s overall policy. What it means in terms of our foreign policy is that we will withdraw from the world. No longer will America be a dominant force, politically economically or militarily, in the international arena.

If you agree with Russian policies as reflected here, then there is no problem. If you do not, this administration’s policies are a real cause for worry.

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First appeared in RURAL RANTS          

America has just now experienced a totally new and shocking approach to presidential politics.  By the time it was over, the Republican candidate had offended just about every group that existed as a potential voting bloc against him.  That list included African Americans, Mexicans, Asians, Latinos, immigrants in general, Muslims, women, POWs and the disabled, to mention just a few.

His manner, vocabulary and attitudes were mean-spirited, crass and completely unapologetic.  The Democrats, basking in his essentially unacceptable demeanor, figured they had the contest won.  Probably the one thing that made that unlikely was their own candidate.  If they had wanted to choose a weak candidate, they couldn’t have done better than the one they chose.  With her approval ratings among the lowest on record, it was going to be an uphill climb for the Democrats.

The first group to turn on the Republican candidate was made up of a number of more traditional conservative Republican politicians.  They either pilloried him for his baseness or refused to endorse his candidacy.

Nevertheless, he persisted in his indiscriminate attack on all those groups that conventional wisdom said were absolutely critical to any candidate who wanted to gain the Presidency.  How could that be?  How could an essentially intelligent man so callously attack the people and groups he would need if he wanted to win the election?

It is difficult if not impossible to believe that he didn’t know what he was doing.  Quite the opposite.  It is far more likely that he had identified the only group that could bring him an election victory and that all the groups that conventional wisdom recommended were exactly those that he did not need.  In fact, he needed to attack them if he was going to guarantee the support of his only important, potential support group – angry, disenfranchised, white, working class Americans who were preoccupied with inevitable, coming, demographic change   And so he did.

It is generally said that he is a reasonably nice guy and that the face he showed the electorate does not accurately reflect his true personality.  If that is true, it lends more credence to the observation that his pre-election personality and behavior were part of his realization that it was the tactic required to win over the one critical group he needed in order to prevail in the election.

And that was very likely the realization that determined how he would run his campaign.  He knew how unhappy and marginalized white, working class America really was.  They had not benefited, as a group, from the economic revival and job growth being touted by the administration in office.  Quite the opposite.  The newly created jobs were a far cry from the good old days of work in the factories where they made enough in good wages and benefits to live solidly middle class lives and even educate their children.  Instead, they got low wages without benefits at places like Walmart.  He and his followers would “make America great again” without identifying the year in America’s past to which we would be returning, but it clearly would be in the pre-Walmart era. How often has a return to the past worked?

Part of the dynamic that brought this unusual tactic to the electoral process was the depth of disenchantment within the white, working class.  He may not have realized it at the time, or may have simply decided he had no choice but to take the risk, but what he found was that no matter how ugly his statements about POWs, Muslims, Mexicans, Black Americans, women and everyone else he attacked and offended, his white Americans would all simply suck it up and take it.  Those attacks had nothing but a positive effect on the white, working class group he was courting.  Not only did they accept this mean-spirited behavior, they actually supported it.

The final and perhaps most fascinating part of this story is that when the actual election came around, the Republican candidate got the vote of not only white working class Americans, but of many women both white and black, and of Mexicans and Latinos as well.  They also picked up Sanders supporters who shared their views on economic fairness.

The overriding issue, clearly, was the state of the economy and the strong belief of his supporters that they were being excluded by the power centers in both the Democratic and Republican parties from their fair share of prosperity.  Given an inevitably changed demographic future, that should cause panic in the Democrat and Republican parties alike.

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Originally published in the Rutland Herald           

If you believe that the Orlando attack was the last one we will experience, you are horribly wrong.

As a result of the nature and magnitude of that attack, we are faced here in America with a complicated choice. That attack and the subsequent endless media evaluations of what “really happened” and what it “really means” will simply hasten the inevitable compulsion that our government will feel to take charge of the situation, driven as it is by public opinion.  How it reacts will color the future of this country for decades to come.

In 1775, Benjamin Franklin correctly said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.

These words appear in a letter written by Franklin on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor. That letter was part of a power struggle between the governor and the assembly over funding for security on the frontier.  It has made its way into today’s vocabulary and taken on a far more significant meaning.

In reality, “safe” countries are not free and “free” countries are not safe.  The more permissive (free, democratic, etc.), as our country is, the less safe it will be.  Only through undemocratic, draconian measures, can terrorism be controlled and safety maintained.  It is up to us to decide whether or not we are better off in the aggregate for the loss of our liberties, remembering that once surrendered, they are difficult to reacquire.  Will a sense of safety, however illusory, be worth that loss?  Or are we better off maintaining our constitutional freedoms, recognizing that they will be accompanied by at least partially manageable uncertainties about our safety?

Our choice is stark because, if we truly want to try to be safe, many of our constitutional freedoms will go by the wayside.  An active, competent and aggressive internal security organization like the FBI, if charged with reestablishing real safety in this vast country will have to seek powers and authorities that it now does not have.  Those powers and authorities will severely limit if not demolish many of the constitutional freedoms to which we are now accustomed.

Finally, given the reality of internet self-radicalization programs designed to appeal to any and all Americans who are thinking of becoming terrorists, there is no guarantee that we can succeed at this endeavor.

To do this difficult job correctly any internal security service like the FBI will have to have freedom to institute and use phone, mail and internet intercepts.  They will need to reintroduce profiling, or the detention, questioning, arrest, and/or search of people solely on the basis of the person’s race or ethnicity.  They will have to be able to hold people in custody in ways that are not compatible with today’s individual liberties.  We will see surveillance, provocation and entrapment operations run against any and all targets presumed to be hostile. Restrictions on “probable cause” will disappear.  The list goes on and on.

These and other similar activities will be necessary as long as hostile terrorist organizations exist here and abroad.  Even if we had the financial and military ability and the will to wipe out ISIS, which we certainly do not, the remnants will remain and they surely will be targeted against America.  As long as there are disaffected Americans, whether native or immigrant, we will be at risk.

Military action against terrorism abroad is unlikely to succeed.  Terrorism is mostly a law enforcement and intelligence problem. Military activity against it results, as we have already seen in the Middle East, in increased hostility toward the United States.

So, we are faced with a choice.  Do we want to surrender many of our basic personal liberties and change this country into something it has never before been in the hope that in doing so we will somehow increase our security?  Or do we want to work within our existing laws, customs and constitutional guarantees in the knowledge that where we may very well be able to inhibit terrorist activity here at home, Orlando will not be the last  attack we suffer?

The tragedy of picking safety over liberty is that it provides no guarantees.  In addition, once relinquished, liberty is difficult to reestablish.

In 2013 in America, 505 people were killed accidentally by firearms and another 11,208 were killed intentionally by another person.  In 2013, 32,719 people were killed in vehicle crashes.  In that same year, 21 people were killed by terrorists in the USA.

It would appear that we have for more compelling issues here than terrorism.

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Fifty-one State Department officials have just signed an internal memo protesting U.S. policy in Syria, calling for targeted U.S. military strikes against the regime of Bashar al Assad and urging regime change as the only way to defeat ISIS.

 

The internal memo was sent throughout the “dissent channel” which is defined as “a serious policy channel reserved only for consideration of responsible dissenting and alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues that cannot be communicated in a full and timely manner through regular operating channels and procedures” and “which will not be subjected to reprisal, discipline action or unauthorized disclosure of its use”. It was established in the 1960s during the Vietnam War to ensure that senior leadership in the department would have access to alternative policy views on the war.

 

The views expressed by the U.S. officials in the cable amount to a scalding internal critique of a longstanding U.S. policy against taking sides in the Syrian war.

 

It is safe to say that our incredibly counterproductive military involvement in the Middle East during the past dozen years was a outgrowth of the powerful influence held by neoconservatives in the Bush administration.

 

It is equally safe to say that “liberal interventionist” ideology has played a role in foreign policy under the Obama administration.  Obama’s first Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton is widely described as “hawkish” in her foreign policy views and her administration has always contained liberal interventionists, many of whom have remained there after her departure from State and the arrival of Secretary Kerry.  They still play important roles in the formulation and conduct of foreign policy.

 

However different the origins of liberal interventionism may be from those of neoconservatism, the net result in foreign policy is not that different.  Both ideologies believe in the export of democracy and regime change, policies that have rightly come under attack here and abroad, given the negative results of our recent military activities in the Middle East.

 

So, the question is, are the State department “51” simply a continuation of our old notions of the export of democracy and regime change?

 

In all of this and regardless of the motivation behind the “dissent channel” memorandum, the only important question to be asked is, what would be the result?  That assumes we become more heavily involved militarily against the Assad regime which would be an act of war in itself.  What do we do about al Qaida’s Al Nusra front?  With Iran?  With the Russians? With the Chinese?  With the Saudis?  With the Iraqis?  Who is on our side?  Who is against us?

 

Assuming we can successfully engineer this regime change, whom do we then pick to run the country?  Do we pick the remaining Alawites with their Shia allies in Iraq and Iran?  Do we pick Sunni Syrians with their confessional ties to ISIS and Iraqi Sunnis?  Do we install the military?

 

Irrespective of what we do, how will the competing confessional groups in the broader region react?  How have they already reacted in Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria?  Does America really have a dog in this fight?

 

Whomever we pick under these circumstances, we will own the responsibility for the Syria of the future, a Syria that will always be contested by the ethnic and confessional forces that rule and roil the Middle East.

 

It is difficult to determine the precise motivation of these 51 co-signees in favor of military intervention.   However, regardless of that motivation, given our recent history in the region, it seems like a crazy, no-win thing for America to want to do.

 

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